Gadgets R Us: The Good, The Bad and the Really Ugly

Our resident techie, Collin, makes sure we always have what we need to keep our life support equipment (you know, smartphones, smart TV, Blu-Ray player, computer, Roku, and tablets) functioning because we can’t live without them.

At least that’s how it feels sometimes.

Most recently, he bought each of us a solar charger to keep our stuff going in the event of a power outage. Had that recent massive solar storm taken out the earth’s power grids and all things tech, it might have killed us.


At least that’s how it feels sometimes.

When I had trouble navigating my Windows 8 tablet, he got me a Bluetooth mouse. Problem solved.


But the best find of all came quite by accident. A couple of weeks ago, we spent an afternoon at Five Below. They have some really great stuff–tablet cases, waterproof phone cases…and headphones. Using earphones has always been a problem for me. Once upon a time, I had Bluetooth for my phone. I couldn’t keep it in my ear. I’m still not sure what I was doing wrong. I like earbuds, but they tend to fall out. Again, I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Five Below had something I had used a long time ago–large, padded headphones. There was quite an assortment–different brands, a multitude of colors. Collin and I each got two.


It wasn’t until we got home that I discovered these headphones weren’t just for listening to music and audiobooks–they also worked for talking on the phone. There’s more, but I’ll get back to that discovery in a minute. Here comes the ugly.

For some reason, my entire Audible library had disappeared from my Kindle Fire HD. After a few choice expletives, I got on live chat with an Audible rep. This shows just how desperate I was–I hate chat almost as much as I hate talking on the phone. Both are considered last resort methods of communication in our house. The chat went nowhere, and I was transferred to an Amazon rep, since the problem, they said, was in my Kindle.

The Amazon rep informed me that the problem was that my Kindle had been de-registered. De-registered? I knew that wasn’t possible. I use it every day. I had just downloaded a new Audible book the day before. In fact, I had just gone through the naming process. Yes, for those of you who have never done this, there is a way to name your devices. Most of mine have Minion names, except the Windows tablet. That’s Rocket, so named in honor of the trigger-happy raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I fired off an angry email to Audible, telling them I did not want to get a phone call. I did not want to chat. I just wanted my audiobooks back on my Kindle–or I would cancel my membership. It wasn’t long before I received an email from a very helpful tech who gave me detailed directions for restoring my library. Collin followed the instructions, and my books were back in minutes.

I know some people are still skeptical about ebooks, but this just made me more certain of my choice. Twenty years ago, I lost 90% of my books, mostly hardcover. It would have cost me a fortune to replace them–which, at the time, I didn’t have. So, my books were gone–until the Kindle came along. My audiobooks may have disappeared from my Kindle, but they were never really lost. I got them back at no further cost to me other than the stress that had my blood pressure shooting into the stratosphere until the problem was resolved.

Now, back to my unexpected headphone discovery. As some of you already know, my new publisher is going to re-release all of my backlist in print and ebook format–but there’s a problem. Most of those books were written on a typewriter, which meant there were no digital copies of the manuscripts. I no longer had the typed copies, either. This meant Collin and I would have to scan the pages and use an OCR program to produce a Word document for the publisher. That’s time-consuming and after full of errors. Or I could retype everything (even more time-consuming). Or I could dictate the text into the computer–where do I begin to explain why that wouldn’t work?

I do most of my writing on my phone or tablets. My phone does have a text-to-speech option, but the results are mixed. As I sat at McDonald’s waiting for Collin yesterday, I started to think. If the headphones worked for the phone, why not for dictation? It was worth a try. I started small, sending Collin a dictated text. It was perfect. As it turns out, my cheapy headphones ($1.99 at Five Below) produce flawless text from my dictation.

This might not take forever, after all.


Be Careful of the Words You Say….

I used to have a little sign posted above my desk, during that brief period of foolishness in which I believed I could discipline myself to actually work at a desk. The little sign read Be careful of the words you say; keep them soft and sweet. You’ll never know from day to day which ones you’ll have to eat.

Epic fail…I never adapted to writing in traditional writer fashion (computer on desk, butt planted firmly in chair) and I never learned to censor myself. But that’s not where this post is going.

This morning, I discovered just how accurate the speech recognition of the Voice Search app on my Android really is. I activated it by mistake and it went into action when I said, “This sucks.” I got this response….

Sorry about the blurred image. I was laughing when I took the photo. A comment of “that’s funny” got this in response….

And so my love-hate relationship with technology rages on. I shudder to think how I’d get by without it. I can barely remember the years of writing everything in longhand on yellow legal pads, print and bound books, CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs, snail mail and using a phone to make phone calls. And it wasn’t all that long ago!

My dad used to say the thing he hated about helping me move was all those heavy cases of books. I told Collin I would love to see the look on his face if I were to ask him to carry my books–and give him my Kindle Fire! I’ve finally done it–all of my books (except for a few special coffee table books) and music are now digitized. I gave away all of the print books–including print copies of my own books!

Now that Collin’s begun digitizing our DVD collection, I’ll soon be able to access everything online. I might have eventually reached my goal of being able to put all of my personal possessions in my backpack…if it weren’t for the 200-plus stuffed animals I still can’t part with….

Here We Go Again….

We have two new additions to our family: a Kindle Fire and an Acer Iconia W500 tablet PC.

(This is beyond cool!)

Eleven years ago, I got my first cellphone. I resisted the idea at first. Collin had seen a display for Virgin Mobile phones at Target and decided he wanted one. For him, it made sense. He was working nights at the time and had to walk several blocks from the bus stop to our place–it was a good idea, for safety reasons. I didn’t want one for myself. The idea of having a phone I could carry with me didn’t appeal to me at all. Leaving our phone behind when I went out didn’t bother me at all. But I soon changed my mind and became the proud owner of a very simple little phone that didn’t do anything but make calls and send text messages.

That was good enough. For a while, anyway.

Three years later, Collin decided he wanted to trade up. The new phones also took pictures, had cool ringtones and limited web access. Okay, I was again sold. And I chose a special ringtone for people I didn’t really want to talk to: the sound of a flushing toilet. If I was going to be stuck with nuisance calls, I was going to at least get a laugh out of them. And I became very good at composing messages with a limited keypad–I could do it accurately without even looking at it.It took me a while to get used to a QWERTY keyboard again!

Then, in 2009, when April came to stay with us, Collin wanted a phone like hers–a T-Mobile Sidekick. This time, we didn’t get the same kind of phone. I opted for the Dash, which was a lot like the Blackberry I’d been craving after hearing an author being interviewed on TV talk about composing part of her novel on hers. Unlike the Blackberry, it had Windows Mobile–easier to sync with my computer. I loved my Dash, and even after my next phone came along, I continued to use it for editing and for email in wi-fi areas until very recently.

Late in 2010, Collin decided he wanted an Android. I wasn’t interested–at first. Once I saw all his phone could do, I quickly changed my mind, so he got me one for Christmas. It took me about a year to learn how to use it without screaming for help (I am, after all, a technomoron!), but I was convinced I finally had one device that could do everything.

Then Collin decided he wanted a tablet.

(He took this photo. I wish he’d turned it on. The wallpaper is gorgeous.)

It wasn’t a frivolous thing. His little netbook didn’t have the RAM to handle Photoshop and other programs and files he needs for his graphic arts work. He’d first decided on a desktop–then discovered the Iconia had twice the RAM as his netbook. It has, in fact, everything he needs and is portable (we like being able to work in the living room, parked in front of the TV–what can I say?)

Tired of getting the “memory nearly full” message on my Android–in spite of the 16GB memory card that supposedly held most of the apps as well as my files–I toyed with the notion of getting a tablet to accommodate the larger apps, like Kindle and Audible. I decided on a very inexpensive model. Collin talked me out of that. He pointed out that warranties are almost nonexistent for off-brands, as is tech support. He felt I should go with the Kindle Fire. Along with being able to read and listen to books, I have web access and can use it for writing and editing.  And it has games and other apps–I’m especially fond of Birdland.

I am so glad I took his advice!

So once again, we have a bunch of gadgets for which we have no use. Each new arrival has more and more capabilities, making things like cameras, digital voice recorders, etc. unnecessary. Mind you, these are perfectly good devices that have had good maintenance and little use. We still have all of our old cellphones–unlike many people, I don’t throw stuff away if it’s still in good working order. I suppose we could have an electronics yard sale….